There’s this great quote from whoever or wherever that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. While that may have a lot of tough panache and testosterone fueled truth to it, I’d like to believe it’s all a bit more subtle than that.
While we’re waiting for the video of our Paris to Haarlem ride to get ready, here’s an extensive update on what I wore on our Festive 500 ride. With the 16-17 hours we spent riding in all sorts of rain, - in hindsight - I’m pretty glad to say that I made the right choices with regards to my clothing. Careful observers will see that there is not a single piece of Rapha gear in there. I’m sorry, Mr. Rapha. I love what you guys do, just haven’t gotten around to purchasing anything yet. I most probably will in the near future, I think I’ve finally put in my roadie-miles to deserve some…
For starters, this was my changing-schedule (Which sounds way more elaborate of a plan than it really was), expecting to have to deal with approximately 24 hours of ‘being out there’, I brought:
- 3 sets of basics/underwear (I was wearing the first set when we got on the train), meaning longsleeve and shortsleeve merino t-shirt, socks, gloves, neck collar and merino cap to be worn under my helmet. Which means that I could change into a fresh set every 8 hours or so. Any time I would be comfortable longer would be OK, and I’d carry on.
- one extra pair of cycling pants, so I could switch after 12 hours.
- a rain jacket and a pair of rain pants (more on those later) that I would whip out when the weather dictated. Turns out I’d spend more than 80% of our ride in them.
You’ll see that I use/wear a lot of merino. After having used virtually every other material known to thermal underwear, I think I have finally found myself a perfect textile. I love the way it feels, it wicks moisture away from the skin amazingly and it will not stink up. Even if you decide to rather re-use one from the laundry basket that was on it’s way to the washing machine. Yes, merino costs a little more, but since I still have some thermal underwear pieces from 15 (!) years ago, I’m pretty confident that these will turn out to be good investments (my oldest merino pieces are already going strong after 5-6 years, with lots of life in them). Basically, thermal underwear doesn’t wear down like outerwear does: invest in some good stuff!
I was wearing a BBB Cycling Icarus helmet for no other reason than that it was given to me a month or two prior and it fits my head well. AS far as I can tell it’s a comfortable helmet, it works for the shape of my head and has enough of a sizing range that I could squeeze under my indispensable Arc’teryx Rho LTW beanie.
My head has two issues, it’s practically bold and I sweat a lot from it. So I need to take care of two quiet contradictory issues: getting the sweat way from my head and keep cold wind of my scalp. The Ar’cteryx beanie is the perfect item for this. I own a bunch of them, wear them in the winter for tourskiing too. They make my life outside truely comfortable.
For cycling in this kind of weather I believe collars are the other must-have item. They ‘plug up’ any heat loss through a wider jacket collar, keep your neck warm and can be pulled up over your mouth or chin when the wind from the front is getting too cold. I had one from Howies, one from Buff and one unmarked one. I like the one from Howies the best, but they don’t seem to make it anymore, but I see that for instance Smartwool do some good looking ones.
I was using three sets of merino underwear from Arc’teryx. A ‘set’ consisted of a longsleeve and shortsleeve T-shirt worn over each other. I started wearing this personally devised two-layer system while skiing and snowboarding a few years back and have never looked back. Usually I only layer them up with a thin in-between fleece. Unfortunately, Arc’teryx has stopped making their merino underwear pieces (I have no idea why, they were great) and I’m still looking for a good substitution. Anyone have any good ideas?
Over the thermals, for pretty much the entire ride I wore an Arc’teryx Trino jacket. Yes, I own a lot of Arc’teryx stuff. I have the very fortunate pleasure of having access to a Pro Order account and throughly believe that their outdoorwear is some of the very best available in the world. The Trino, coming in as a more high-speed oriented piece with a WindStopper front and fleece backside is very stretchy, comfortable and a delight to wear. there are two big cycling-jersey styled pocket on the back for storing whatever.
As cycling pants I had two winter pants that I ‘happened’ to have. One is an AGU Progresso that I got for beachracing on a cold weekend back in Octobre and the other one is a Vaude that was already a few years old. The Vaude was the most weatherproof of the two, so I decided to save that one for last. Use the wind and waterproofness (obviously it’s not really waterproof) when I would need it most.
Contact points: hand/feet
I have always been a fan of Specialized gloves and shoes since I got into cycling. And despite occasionally buying and using other stuff. It’s when I get some shoes or gloves from the big S, that I truely regret spending money on anything else. I had three pairs of gloves: Radiants, Element 1.5s and Deflects. I can’t exactly remember which glove I wore at what point during the ride, but most of the time they performed very well. I could have done with a bit better waterproofness, but in that weather anything could have done with a bit better waterproofness.
I only had two smallish gripes: pulling my wet hands from the Radiants would pull the liner (and reverse it) from the outer glove. Trying to press them - and every separate finger - back in, being cold, tired and miserable after 23 hours on the bike, was something I could have done without. On the Radiants, especially the cuffs, Specialized uses neoprene. A material used in wetsuits for surfing. Wetsuits have come so incredibly far over the last ten years in warmth, flexibility and comfort, that it always pains me to see absolutely crap quality neoprene used in other industries. The Radiants could be easily 3 times more quick to get on and off if they’ld use an actual high-quality neoprene on the cuffs. It would make a great glove even better.
For shoes I was wearing an older model Specialized Defrosters with a GripGrab overshoe. I bought the overshoe on my way to the station after realising I had forgotten a pair I had lying at home. Within an hour after it started raining water started seeping into my shoes and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d swap socks every 8 hours or so, other than that I had just given over to the idea that my feet would be wet, a little bit cold (uncomfortable, but manageable). When I got home I found the overshoes to be wrecked (once again…). Really, we can put men on the moon, but not come up with an overshoe that doesn’t get f#cked up in a few hours of riding? There is a reason why I normally don’t wear these things, and this is it.
Two highlights in this department: Smartwool socks and Superfeet insoles. Due to a connection with the Dutch distributor, over the years I have been putting Superfeet insoles in more and more of my footwear. It started with ski and snowboard boots, flowed over into my daily footwear and my cycling shoes were the last to follow. I wouldn’t want to change them for any money in the world anymore and I’d like to advise them to anyone. For me they’ve prevented, cold feet, foot cramps, better posture in my lower body, less fatigue.
All in all pretty bold claims, but that’s exactly what they’ve done for me. Get yourself to a shop that knows it’s way around these things and get yourself fitted (you need a heel-cup size that fits your specific heel, but after that you should be sorted), then gladly apply to all of your footwear. For my cycling shoes I use the Black version due to it’s low volume/low profile (cycling shoes don’t have a lot of room in them).
Read all of the above on merino, apply that to socks and - as far as I’m concerned - you end up at Smartwool. Best socks in the business. I had four pairs with me. Three for the ‘regular’ outfit-refreshers and one extra pair for emergencies.
Rain: wetwetwet isn’t just a nineties band
My solution was pretty simple, but it worked exceptionally well in the ghastly weather that decided to play it’s little game with us. Now, I don’t mean to bad-mouth any other cyclists, but coming from an outdoorsy/winter background, I have never understood the so-called rain jackets that a lot of cyclists are using. I my opinion they are glorified wind jackets, suitable for keeping wind of off your body for a few hours and maybe giving you an extra half hour when it starts raining. But they are not waterproof jackets for in the rain. Which is what I think a rain jacket should be…
Knowing I’d be out there for around 24 hours (which turned out to be around 30), I decided to bring an actual waterproof jacket, an Arc’teryx Alpha SL Pullover. It’s a parka-style jacket in that you need to pull it over your head, but the lack of a large front zipper will prevent any leakage on the front of your torso. One of the under-arm ventilation zips runs all the way down to the hem, giving you easy-of-entry when putting the jacket on. The Gore-Tex PacLite membrane is very close to being as waterproof as ‘real’ Gore-Tex, but it packs a lot smaller and is much lighter. Yes, it’s an expensive jacket for something so small and light. But it’s exceptionally well made and mine has lasted me through a lot of rugged adventures for the last four years. It’s has just recently started to show the first signs of wear and tear and I’m guessing I need to replace it in the foreseeable future. But it has been a great jacket and investment. The only weird property is that the large pouch-like pocket on your chest seems to suck in air an blow up a bit leaving you with and awkward half-pressurised balloon on your chest every now and then.
For pants I used a pair of Vaude’s Spray 3/4 pants. As their name implies their length stretches to just under the knee (with the velcro tabs you can also fix them above the knee, if you like that better). I don’t care about my calves getting wet when the weather turns to crap. They will however keep my backside dry, warm and comfortable. The best thing: they pack so small that I always carry these in my backpack or bikebag when I’m on long rides. In short: I love these things and will not be looking for anything else in the next few years.
Especially the rain pieces made my life easier on the day that I was trying as hard as possible to make my life hard.